SAFMC Fishermen's Forum

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June 2018 South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meeting Public Comments

These public comments will focus on my vision for our fisheries and freedom to access them. They are based on decades of on-the-water experience and years of research guided by a deep love for the sea. My hope is that they will encourage people to think about ways we can sustainably feed the world while empowering individuals across the globe through wise management of public resources.  

The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires us to manage our fisheries in ways that limit waste and make efficient use of our nation’s seafood. We should manage quotas with appropriate possession limits that avoid extended closures and excessive discards. By-catch Allowances can be used to keep fishermen from targeting spawning aggregations without requiring us to discard what we accidentally catch while targeting other species with higher limits. Proper management of quotas would provide consumers with a dependable supply of American seafood. This common-sense approach would keep tons of seafood from being allocated to projected dead discards during closures. Shouldn’t we try to manage quotas in ways that don’t require us to plan ahead for the waste of our public resources?

Our next step should be to focus on enhancing our fisheries and food supply with hatcheries and artificial reefs. Wise use of these proven management tools could be the perfect blend of open-water aquaculture and wild-caught seafood that lives free and self-sufficient until harvested. We could build artificial reefs on barren bottom to greatly increase the biomass those areas can support. This would not only make the seafood we eat more abundant, it would also help other species such as turtles, dolphins, and corals thrive. We could stock a wide variety of larval-stage fry to create Hatchery Supported Quotas that can help feed a growing population while creating more recreational opportunity. Funding for these projects could come from existing taxes that are intended to promote sportfishing and domestic seafood production along with a realignment of management priorities. This approach would be infinitely better than farming fish in public waters. Concentrations of caged fish plague surrounding ecosystems with diseases, parasites, and pollution. There is also the ethical issue of confining fish that would normally swim freely in a vast ocean to a small crowded cage. Why cage these fish for the profit of a few global corporations when we could easily release billions of babies to live free and benefit everyone as they grow?

Now we need to make sure that our public resources remain public. Catch Share style programs have privatized some of our public resources. Foreign corporations are buying many of those resources and now own the rights to them. The Wreckfish ITQ program would be a good place to show how privatized public resources can be returned to the public in a way that is fair to current owners. States should be given the Right of First Refusal on any sale of quota by shareholders from that state. Other states in a management zone should have second choice before shares can be sold on the open market. Fair market value should be paid by any state purchasing quota. This would give states the ability to manage some fisheries off their coast while preventing foreign ownership of America’s public resources.   

A vision for the future of our fisheries should consider offshore energy exploration and extraction. We should map our offshore oil and gas deposits once using the safest technology available and make those results public rather than allowing multiple rounds of secret seismic testing by global corporations. States should be given the Right of First Refusal on any approved leases for wind, oil, gas, or tidal energy off their coast. Leasing fees to the federal government should be used to pay off the national debt. Energy production platforms should be designed as permanent structures that can serve multiple purposes while creating ideal artificial reef habitat. Platforms should include hatcheries for offshore species to mitigate potential negative impacts in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

We should consider options for protecting closed areas in ways that also protect the rights of citizens. Marine Protected Areas and Special Management Zones that are closed to fishing should be marked with data buoys equipped with cameras to prevent poaching and collect data. These protected areas are similar to National Parks and should be easily accessible to the public. Online streaming video like those from some parks would allow people across the globe to witness these natural treasures that would otherwise be hidden in depths.

Permit holders can discuss these and other ideas in the Fishermen’s Forum on the SAFMC website. This forum gives us the opportunity to set an example for self-governance with official oversight that could be applied to other areas. My vision for the forum would be that we start by discussing options for properly managing quotas within MSA guidelines and vote on them. Votes should be binding when a 2/3 majority of participating permit holders agree on something. We could then move on to other issues or just stop doing anything to give existing management measures time to work as we collect data before reviewing them in a few years.

Thanks for your thoughtful consideration of this vision. I am happy to answer any questions and/or go into greater detail.

Sincerely,
Chris McCaffity